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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I will see whether I can get further and better particulars to answer for Defra because I am not fully up to speed on that, although I take the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, has spoken to his amendment. I shall start by giving him the modern-day Civil Service version in reply to his amendment, which I suspect is probably no different to his day.

The amendment would add area of outstanding natural beauty conservation boards to the list of authorities in Clause 5(3) of the Bill with a statutory advice-giving role on the review, monitoring and preparation.

The authorities in Clause 5(3) are singled out to advise the regional planning body because they have expertise of strategic planning and, in the case of county councils and unitary authorities, they are responsible for delivering major services. The area of outstanding natural beauty conservation boards would have neither that experience nor the responsibilities, so it would not make sense to add them to the list.

I emphasise again—I hope I did in Committee—that the Government attach great importance to ensuring that areas of outstanding natural beauty are protected through the planning system. We also expect area of outstanding natural beauty management bodies to play an important role in the new planning arrangements; for example, as partners in developing a sub-regional strategy for their areas, where that is appropriate. I take on board what the noble Lord has said because in Committee he expressed concern about insufficient collaborative working. Since then he has obviously taken further advice and he has referred to the detailed letter from my noble friend Lord Bassam covering that issue.

The area of outstanding natural beauty management bodies are, of course, principally comprised of local authority representatives. One must remember that. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provides that where area of outstanding natural beauty conservation boards are established, at least 40 per cent of the members must be drawn from local authorities and at least 20 per cent from parish councils. In the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, where conservation boards are currently being established, it is proposed that local

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authority representation, as I believe the noble Lord implied, will be substantially higher than 40 per cent. Local authorities are and will continue to be at the heart of the management of areas of outstanding natural beauty.

The fact that local authorities are so strongly represented seems to me to be the best safeguard that they will take the work of areas of outstanding natural beauty seriously. If, as has been suggested, that is not always the case, we cannot really provide in planning legislation for a change of attitude.

It appears that further and better particulars have not arrived. I shall reply to the noble Lord by letter on the points that he has raised. I shall do that as quickly as possible, in case he wants to take advice on this important issue and return to it at Third Reading.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I look forward to receiving his letter. I shall then consider what further action to take. It occurs to me that I might provide him with a rather more graphical explanation of the problem that I foresee. Let us suppose that the north-eastern regional authority decides that it needs to promote tourism to encourage employment and income in the region. It may consider that it would be excellent to have a large tourist centre adjacent to Hadrian's Wall in the Northumberland National Park. I believe that that kind of activity would be wrong, given the terms of existing legislation which protects the national parks. When the Minister replies to me, he may have that example in the back of his mind—an example of the kind of thing, that with the best intentions in the world, might go wrong.

Landscape protection is terribly important in our country. When I returned from serving abroad it was always such a delight to visit an area of outstanding natural beauty to see how unchanged it was. They are some of the great treasures of our country and we should not destroy them for rather menial, current activities without very good reason. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 13:


    Page 3, line 1, leave out "may" and insert "shall"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group of amendments ties in with a strengthened role for strategic planning authorities. As I have delayed the House for some time on this matter already today, I shall endeavour to be brief. I shall speak first to Amendments Nos. 13 and 14. They strengthen the statutory duty of county councils, metropolitan, unitary and national park authorities beyond the government amendments to Clause 5. We have talked about those several times today. They actively assist in the regional planning functions of the RPBs. We want to go further than giving those authorities a statutory advisory role. The authorities will have to carry out the

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functions for their areas on behalf of the regional planning bodies. Only that will be sufficient to ensure an effective planning system.

Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are very straightforward. The first deals with ensuring that where authorities have undertaken functions of regional planning bodies and have incurred expenditure in doing so, they will be reimbursed. We discussed that in Committee and did not receive a very satisfactory answer. The power must be statutory. It is only best practice to make it legally watertight. The Minister said that the authority could tell a regional planning body to go away and return with a better offer if the cost of work was not adequately reimbursed. I believe that that would be too casual. It sends out an unwelcome message that when it comes to paying local authorities for the work that they do on behalf of regional planning bodies, such payment is optional or voluntary.

Presumably, in the funding arrangements for regional planning bodies, they will receive funding to carry out their functions. It is clear that, where those functions are performed by another authority on their behalf, the funding should be transferred to the relevant authority. Any other approach would be unsustainable. We would like to see the Bill as clear as possible on the principle of payment.

Amendment No. 16 deletes subsection (6) of Clause 5 and would remove the prohibition on a regional planning body arranging for an authority to carry out the functions in Clause 6(6) on its behalf. Those functions are publishing a draft provision to the regional spatial strategy, preparing the report of the sustainability appraisal of the proposals in the draft provision, publishing any further documents related to the draft revision required by regulations under Clause 6(5)(b) and submitting those documents to the Secretary of State.

The aim of the amendment is to permit more flexibility in the system. It may be necessary for a regional planning body to delegate all or parts of those functions to local authorities in order to match up the right expertise to the right work. That would simply be pragmatic. It may become a helpful support mechanism in the transition period if regional planning bodies have that option available to them.

It would still be the regional planning bodies' choice whether it wanted to delegate any part of those functions to other authorities. The RPB would still have ownership. To leave them with no choice demonstrates once again central government interference that actually stifles devolution. I would have thought that all assistance between authorities and regional planning bodies should be encouraged. If we are to have a regional planning system, perhaps regional planning bodies will need as much help as possible. We on this side of the House feel very strongly about pushing the Government a little further on provisions for strategic planning authorities in the new planning system. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, our amendment to delete "may" and insert "shall" is Amendment No. 15.

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That concerns the reimbursement provision mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. As he has reminded the House, the Minister said that if the regional planning bodies' proposals were inadequate to cover the cost, the local authority could tell them to go away and return with a better offer. Perhaps the Minister could tell the House on what basis a local authority could say that. It probably would not say it in quite those terms; there are more formal ways of putting such matters. What legal basis would a local authority have for saying that? After all, authorities have a duty under earlier parts of this clause and I am sure they would not want to avoid exercising that duty. Here we are simply talking about "fair's fair" and if that is so, the balance of legal weight needs to be similar on both sides.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the amendments are somewhat familiar, as noble Lords have said. They deal with the basis on which the regional planning bodies make the arrangements with local authorities for those authorities to exercise the regional planning bodies' functions. The Bill provides a clear statutory role for authorities with strategic planning expertise in advising regional planning bodies. These amendments cannot then be needed to give counties and others a statutory role in strategic planning.

We have been clear that if the sort of partnership arrangements that we want to see are to work well, they must be entered into voluntarily. Unwilling partners will not be well placed to carry out effective regional planning. The regional planning body has an important job to do for its region. This is likely to be best done by arranging for others to carry out some functions on its behalf.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 would leave the regional planning body unable to carry out its responsibilities and would most likely be fatal to strategic planning at the regional level. The local authority is not obliged to enter into arrangements with the regional planning body. These are voluntary—they can refuse. One assumes that the financial arrangements must be part and parcel of the agreement.

We heard that a power not a duty to pay sent out an unwelcome message, but this is to overlook the interests in the real world of both the regional planning bodies and the local authorities. If it is not in the local authority's financial interests to enter into an arrangement unless the regional planning body provides some funds, it will say so, and it will not enter into the arrangement. There will be no payment where this is what the regional planning body and the authority agree to as part of agreeing the arrangements. These are adults; they are professionals. They ought to be able to come to voluntary arrangements that include the necessary reimbursement where required.

We heard that the regional planning body should be able to arrange for an authority to publish a draft revision and submit it to the Secretary of State to give more flexibility, as Amendment No. 16 would provide. Our position on this is clear, and I will repeat it. Prohibition on a regional planning body for arranging

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for an authority to carry out the functions in Clause 5(6) on its behalf is vital to guarantee true regional ownership of this key regional strategy.

I have made this point since Second Reading. To get clarity of ownership we must reserve certain key functions for the regional planning body. The regional planning body must take final responsibility for the draft revisions to the regional spatial strategy, the report of the sustainability appraisal and any other documents required by regulations. That is the reason that this amendment is not acceptable. It goes to the heart of what we are trying to do here, and undermines it. I do not say that in a pejorative sense, but that would be its effect.

On Amendment No. 17, I will repeat what I said in Committee. The words, "must be taken to be", rather than, "shall be"—that is the arrangements under Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972—are used because a regional planning body is not a local authority. They were used for that reason alone. The wording in Amendment No. 17 would be right only for arrangements between local authorities, and because the regional planning body is not in law a local authority, that would not be the case.

We find Amendment No. 26 difficult to understand, but we assume that the intention is to refer to subsection 5(3) not subsection 4(2). I made this point on an earlier amendment, where there was clearly a carry-over from Committee stage in the drafting of colleagues' notes. If this is the case, the amendment would place a duty on county councils, unitary authorities, metropolitan district councils and national park authorities to assist the regional planning body in preparing a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy. We are a bit surprised to see the amendment re-appear.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said that the purpose of the amendment was to provide county councils and unitary authorities with a statutory role in the preparation and revision of regional spatial strategies. Clause 5 now does that. That was part of the government arrangements and negotiations with the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network, which clearly have not gone far enough, as indicated in our debate earlier this afternoon. I have no doubt that we will hear more about that in due course. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendments.


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